Here are some brief bios and insights into our instructors. We believe however that it's a lot more fun to get to know them the old fashioned way.

Chief Instructor

Robert Zimmermann Shihan, 7th dan in Aikido, 5th dan in Iaido

Robert is the Chief Instructor of Toronto Aikikai. He holds the rank of Nanadan (7th degree black belt) and the title of Shihan (Master Instructor) in Aikido and the rank of Godan (5th degree black belt) in Iaido. He has studied mainly under the direction of Mitsunari Kanai Shihan, 8th dan, Chief Instructor of New England Aikikai until his passing in 2004, with Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan, 8th dan, Chief Instructor of New York Aikikai, both direct disciples of O-Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba, and in the 1990's with Yukio Kawahara Shihan, 8th dan, Technical Director of the Canadian Aikido Federation.
Robert began practicing Aikido in 1967 and Iaido in 1999, and has trained and/or taught at seminars and training camps in Canada, the United States, Japan, Mexico, Central and South America, Israel and Europe. He is one of the Founders and President of Shin Kaze Aikido Alliance, a former member of the Technical Committee of the United States Aikido Federation and a former member of the Board of Directors of the United States Aikido Federation and of the Canadian and the Ontario Aikido Federations. His first instructor was Mr. Manuel Cela of the Fujiyama Dojo in Uruguay. After moving to Canada in 1974, his main instructor was Mr. Bruce Stiles, founder of Toronto Aikikai and a senior student of Mitsunari Kanai Shihan. Robert became Chief Instructor of Toronto Aikikai in 1983.
"I am extremely thankful and indebted to all my teachers over the years. They all conveyed many deep and valuable lessons. Two of the many things Kanai Sensei taught me were patience and a keen eye for detail. In spite of my many shortcomings he was always extremely patient with me, showing me by example and always answering all my questions, no matter how trivial. I truly miss our conversations. He also taught me about clarity, about how to see, understand, dissect, deconstruct, reconstruct and explain technical details to myself and others, to discern what is not shown and most importantly, how to search for the underlying principles from which techniques derive. He taught me that the learning process involves sustained effort coupled with clear understanding and pleasurable practice, and that eventually, the day will arrive when one can embody and manifest these principles in one's daily practice and, by extension, also in daily life. I find myself re-learning these lessons on a regular basis, as I try to apply these concepts and convey these teachings to my students."


Assistant Instructors

Joel Posluns Shihan, 7th dan in Aikido, 4th dan in Iaijutsu

Joel started Aikido in 1973 at Toronto Aikikai under Bruce Stiles Sensei. In 1990 he moved to San Francisco and practiced at Berkeley Aikikai under Ichiro Shibata Shihan. In 1992 he founded San Francisco Aikikai and became a full time Aikido instructor. In 2004, he returned to Canada and moved to British Columbia where he opened North Vancouver Aikikai in the North Shore of Vancouver. In 2021 he returned to Toronto and rejoined Toronto Aikikai, where he teaches Aikido and Iaijutsu. He currently holds the rank of Nanadan (7th Dan) and the title of Shihan (Master Instructor) in Aikido and the rank of Yondan (4th degree black belt) in Ryushin Shouchi Ryu, Iaijutsu, a quick draw style of Traditional Japanese Swordsmanship, and is directly connected to the Soke (Head Instructor) Yahagi Kunikazu Sensei who gave him teaching credentials. Joel continues to practice and teach internationally. He has travelled extensively to Europe to teach at dojos in the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain, and has also taught seminars in Australia and New Zealand.

Yelitza Cuevas, 4th dan in Aikido, 4th dan in Iaido

Yelitza began her Aikido practice in Venezuela in January 2000. Three months later she had the opportunity to travel to Canada for 8 months where she trained under Robert Zimmermann Sensei at Toronto Aikikai. She returned briefly to Venezuela where she continued training with Nelson Requena Sensei and in November 2002 moved permanently to Toronto and has been practicing Aikido and Iaido at Toronto Aikikai since then. Over the years, Yelitza's practice has been strongly influenced and shaped by her main teacher Robert Zimmermann Shihan, and also by M. Kanai Shihan, Y. Yamada Shihan, and C. Berthiaume Shihan. One of the things that initially attracted her to Aikido was the beauty and roundness of its movements. She always admired martial arts but it was in Aikido that she found elements of strength, beauty, harmony, and non-competitiveness. She loved Aikido from day one, has practiced it uninterruptedly and it has become a lifestyle more than a hobby for her. Robert Zimmermann Sensei once told her "train hard in your good times and create the habit so you can continue in your bad times". Yelitza has found this to be very true and always keeps it in mind. "Aikido has changed my life in many ways. While the reasons why I started practicing are not the same as why I practice today, I have found that Aikido and Iaido are the best tools I have to get to know and work on myself. It's true they are beautiful martial arts, but more importantly, they offer me the opportunity to be more in touch with my body and mind and to experience how different emotional states affect me and my movements." Yelitza trains regularly and attends seminars in Canada, the US, and other countries. "Aikido and Iaido have proven to be key for keeping balance in my life, increasing my productivity at work, helping me stay healthy and making friends all over the world."

Eric Lavigne, 4th dan in Aikido, 5th dan in Iaido

Eric stumbled upon Aikido in 2000, when he enrolled in an introductory course offered by University of Montreal. A few months later, he joined Aikido de la Montagne, practicing under the supervision of Claude Berthiaume Shihan. What was first curiosity became enjoyment, struggle, then passion. After fourteen years of practice, life brought him to Toronto, where he joined Toronto Aikikai and started practicing under the supervision of Robert Zimmermann Shihan. Eric’s Iaido practice started a year after he began practicing Aikido. Although each art stands on its own, he found a powerful synergy in their combined practice, as Aikido required working with a partner, while Iaido allowed for individual focus. Oscillating between the two, he found important lessons on movement and the transfer of power. “I enjoy both working with partner and on my own; they bring different kinds of struggles and different kinds of discoveries. I feel very lucky to be studying under such great masters as Berthiaume Shihan and Zimmermann Shihan. It’s hard to imagine where I’d be or who I’d be without Aikido and Iaido. What first drew me to Aikido was its non-competitiveness and its focus on respect for one’s partner. For Iaido, it was the serene yet intense practice and the beauty of the body-sword movements. Behind each is a touching simplicity that remains defiantly complex. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate their paucity of rank insignia, and their emphasis on respectful and humble practice. Meeting my limits is challenging. Yet overcoming them through patience and hard work has brought so much pleasure that I now feel genuinely happy when nothing seems to work, as it offers me new opportunities for discovery.”

Alireza Faed, 4th dan in Aikido

Alireza started practicing martial arts when he was a high school student in Tehran, taking up Karate for seven years. In 1998 he found Aikido and became one of the early students of Ahmad Ali Aghsaghloo Sensei, an Aikido pioneer in Iran. He received his Federal Shodan in 2003 and his International Shodan in 2008. Aikido opened new horizons in his mind and his personal life. In late 2008 he moved to Perth, Western Australia, and continued practicing Aikido under the direction of Hugh Derham Sensei. Alireza had a short visit to Toronto Aikikai in the summer of 2012, where he met Robert Zimmermann Shihan and enjoyed his technical classes. He moved permanently to Canada in late 2013 and has been studying and training with Zimmermann Shihan at Toronto Aikikai. Alireza trusts Aikido has been very influential in all facets of his life and is one of the significant factors that have shaped him into the person he is today and for that, he is genuinely grateful to all his instructors. He believes that having a valuable sword requires its owner to polish and sharpen it regularly. The same applies to one's Aikido skills, which need one to be dedicated, tolerant, and constantly practicing and improving regularly. He gives credence to the fact that one must live with Aikido so that it resonates in all aspects of the individual's characteristics. "Each class is like a state-of-the-art, original, yet new outset as Zimmermann Shihan constantly opens up a new horizon for new technical attainment and elevation. One of the prominent features that immensely absorbed me was gradually evolving by frequent learning and practicing."

Basia Halliop, 3rd dan in Aikido

Basia has been practicing Aikido since 2004. "I first tried it when I found myself one summer with no job and a lot of stress from an intense semester at university. I practiced all summer at Aikido de la Montagne in Montreal, and when it came time to start the next semester I loved it too much to stop, so I found a way to work it into my schedule. The next year I moved to Toronto for graduate school, found Toronto Aikikai, and have been practicing under Robert Zimmermann Sensei ever since. Learning as much as I can, and understanding how people and animals of all kinds learn have always been two major interests of mine. In Aikido I'm drawn to so many things. For example, the beautiful use of classical physics -- of balance, momentum, leverage, timing and inertia, which make techniques look so effortless, although they're quite hard to learn. Also the fact that there are endless opportunities to keep learning and developing one's skills, and that there is a wonderful balance of learning at one's own pace and having the support of a community of skilled and energetic friends in which to do so. And best of all, who can resist pinning someone to the ground, tossing them across a room, or turning around and becoming airborne yourself?" Basia has a PhD in Electrical Engineering in the field of photo-voltaics, a.k.a. solar electricity.

Ezzard Neri, 3rd dan in Aikido

"I began training in the Martial Arts at the age of 21 at a local martial arts school that most of my family members had attended. I immersed myself in the practice of the Filipino indigenous combat weapon and unarmed hand-to-hand methods of '"arnis or kali" to quickly instill a vigorous form of physical and mental discipline. Soon after, in 1993, I joined the Canadian Army Reserve as an artillery-soldier to further my challenges and undertakings, and so began my search for a tough martial discipline and a self-defense curriculum with which I craved to train earnestly alongside soldiering. Through my arnis/kali teacher, I was exposed to his Shotokan Karate and Kobudo backgrounds for several years. This helped me experience several methods of fighting and self-defense and expanded my understanding of how to train physically, spiritually and purposefully. I also studied several forms of traditional Japanese Budo such as Bujinkan Ninpo-Taijutsu, Judo and Goshin Kai Jujutsu in which I achieved the rank of Shodan after 5 years of practice. In spite of my extensive experience, I was not satisfied with my training - I felt something was still missing. It was in this frame of mind that I heard one my fellow students from the arnis/kali school mention he also practiced Aikido, and I decided to look into what that was all about. After visiting several schools I began training at one dojo in 1999, but a year later decided to attend Toronto Aikikai for a different disciplined training regime and the style of Robert Zimmermann Shihan. At Toronto Aikikai I have made Aikido my core training in Japanese Budo, and in 2003 I also started practicing Iaido." Ezzard currently holds the rank of Nidan in Aikido.

Yaleh Paxton-Harding, 1st dan in Aikido,

The son of two artists, I've followed a path in fine art and animation. I was influenced by diverse experiences in Halifax, where I studied at NSCAD, in Amsterdam and in my hometown, Toronto.
Early exposure to Judo and Hapkido set in motion my curiosity in martial arts. Years later, around 2000, I rediscovered them through Aikido at Toronto Aikikai under the instruction of Shihan Robert Zimmermann.
Aikido, sometimes described as 'Zen in motion,' intrigued me with its subtle yet effective non-destructive techniques, rooted in battlefield principles.
In addition to my martial arts training, I continue to create art and work as an art director for children's programs.
Under Shihan Zimmermann's guidance, I journeyed, reaching the milestone of Shodan, first-degree black belt. This signifies not the end but a perpetual state of humility and discovery as I continue to explore and grow within the art of Aikido.
In my daily life, Aikido isn't just a physical practice; it's a mindset that shapes my responses to challenges with creative resilience rather than destructive reactions.
My journey continues, with goals as waypoints along the path.